What is Damping Off and How Do I Prevent It?

What is Damping Off and How Do I Prevent It?

Last Updated On: March 19, 2022

If you’ve tried starting your garden from seeds and have had some lackluster results then damping off may be to blame. Damping off is a general term used to describe the sudden death of seeds or seedlings, and is something many gardeners will face. In this article, we’ll look at exactly what damping off is, what factors contribute to it, and what we as gardeners can do to prevent it.

What is Damping Off and What Causes It?

Damping off is a broad term that encompasses a range of fungal diseases that can affect young plants and seeds. These fungi grow in the soil and attack your plant, ultimately killing it. They live in the soil, but you can also unknowingly transport them around your garden on unwashed tools or in soil remnants in old potting containers.

Unfortunately, the environment that stimulates germination, wet soil, is also ideal for bacterial and fungal growth. This means you need to be fairly diligent during germination and for a few weeks after as it’s the perfect time for this fungal growth to occur.

What Does Damping Off Look Like?

In most cases, damping off presents itself as failed germination of seeds or suddenly dying seedlings. If your seedlings seem healthy one day, and dead the next, it’s likely they suffered from a case of damping off.

This can sometimes be seen as broken stems, yellowing seedlings, brown and mushy roots or seeds, and the sudden death of your young plant. Unfortunately, once damping off has occurred there’s little you can do to reverse the process.

Seedlings are still too weak to properly deal with the disease, and will quickly succumb to it. There’s usually very little time between noticing a problem and the seedlings dying, and nothing we can do to prevent the inevitable. That means that instead of focusing on fixing the problem we should look to prevent it in the first place.

How Do I Prevent Damping Off?

While you can’t help plants that are already affected by damping off, there is a lot we can do to help prevent it in the first place. Damping off is often a product of the environment, and we can take care to help limit the chances of fungal growth. Here are some tips for starting your seeds right and preventing damping off.

  1. Use a light, fast draining seed starter mix. This helps promote proper water drainage. Lack of good drainage is a big cause of damping off.
  2. Use clean tools and thoroughly wash any containers. The pathogens that cause damping off can be present even in small amounts of old soil.
  3. Don’t overwater, and make sure to drain off any excess water. Too much moisture stimulates fungal growth and is a big cause of damping off.
  4. Don’t overcrowd your soil, make sure to give seeds enough room. Too tightly packed seeds can lead to humidity and moisture issues.
  5. Plant your seeds near the surface. Planting them too deeply reduces air circulation and encourages fungal growth.
  6. Favor bottom watering your seeds/seedlings over top watering. This helps limit the amount of moisture in the soil to only what it needs.
  7. Give your seedlings plenty of sun and warmth. Many pathogens that cause damping off tend to like cooler soil, so keeping it warm is a good way to deter their growth.
  8. Remove any plants affected by it quickly. If left alone, the disease can spread to other nearby plants.

While there’s no surefire way to prevent damping off, the tips above are good steps to limit the chance of it happening. Notice that many of them deal with limiting the amount of moisture in the soil. Overwatering and too much soil moisture is one of the biggest causes of damping off, so do what you can to provide just enough water without giving too much.

Other Damping Off FAQs

Does Damping Off Effect Certain Plants More?

Damping off can affect a wide range of plants that are young or are still seeds that have yet to germinate. It’s best to assume that any plant can be affected by it, and take care to avoid overwatering and excessive moisture issues.

Why Does Damping Off Only Affect Young Plants?

Older plants are better able to handle the stress that the fungal disease causes and also have some biological factors that make them less susceptible to it in the first place.

Does Fungicide Help With Damping Off?

Yes, some proactively used fungicide can help kill off any pathogens before they’re able to grow. Note that you need to do this before the damping off has occurred. Doing so once the signs are visible is usually too late.

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